It’s been a while since we covered the opening of a manufacturer showroom, what with deadlines lurking steathily around every corner. Fortunately though, when an invite to the opening of only the second Ducati showroom in the UAE arrived in the crankandpiston inbox, I found myself with a spare morning to fill, and decided a bit of mingling was in order.
And it’s rather fortunate I did, since the the day’s guest of honour was Troy Bayliss, three-time World Superbike Champion and a Ducati sporting legend. As you can imagine, every man and his dog wanted a quick word with – and an autograph from – the likeable Aussie. Before the traffic built up too heavily, crankandpiston leapt forward, voice recorder in hand, for a few words with the Champ.
Troy, let’s dive straight into the career statistics. Three World Superbike Championships (2001, 2006 and 2008), one British Superbike Championship (1999), and 52 WSB victories. Only one man has secured more Championships and more victories in the series’ history (Carl Fogarty, with four and 59 respectively), and only two men have won more races in a single season (Doug Polen in 1991, and Carlos Checa in 2011). That’s quite some record…
“It’s just great! I mean, when I look at my win rate, the percentage is very good. Ducati has been great for me, and hopefully I for them. And to be second to Carl is just amazing. He’s a legend for WSB and Ducati, and he’s won more races than anybody. Plus I get on really well with Carl. In fact, he presented me with the British Superbike Championship trophy in 1999, and as he handed me the trophy I thought ‘I love the job that you’ve got, and that’s the series where I want to be’. And little to be known, I went into WSB because of Carl’s crash. It’s kind of strange how it all works out!”
Yes, that was after Fogarty’s accident at Phillip Island in 2000, which forced him to retire from competition. You were called up for the next round at Sugo in Japan. Quite a nerve-wracking way to make your WSB debut…
“At that time, I was already doing the AMA Superbike Championship in the USA. I was back in Australia sorting out my Visa when I was asked by Ducati to come to Sugo. I didn’t know the team, hardly knew any of the guys, had never ridden on Michelins before, and ended up not completing a single lap in either race. I was involved in a crash in race one at the first corner with six or seven guys, and on the third corner of the second race somebody t-boned me and I crashed again. So yeah, it was a bit of a difficult weekend!
“The worse thing was, two weeks later they had the British WSB round at Donington, and Ducati put Luca Cadalora on the bike. I just couldn’t understand that. I’d just won the British Superbike Championship, and it made sense for me to ride at Donington, a track I knew well. And then they asked me to go to Monza! And again, I didn’t know the guys, I didn’t know the bike, I didn’t know the track, and I just thought ‘why have they asked me to go to Monza?!’
“But then, boom! I finished fourth in both races, and they said, ‘right, you’re not going anywhere’. And it all went from there”
Indeed it did. This eventually led to a stint in MotoGP but we’ll circle back to that. From a career spanning nearly a decade, are there any particular wins or moments that stand out for you?
“No favourite wins come to mind, but my favourite year would be 2006, because it was my first season back in world superbikes and I won the championship. And then Sete Gibernau crashed the Ducati MotoGP bike at the penultimate round of the season, and the team asked me if I’d like to come and do the final race in Valencia. It was also the last race of the 990cc four-stroke MotoGP engines, before they were dropped to 800cc for 2007. So I did the first race with these engines and the last race too, but I also got to win the last race [which stands as Troy’s sole MotoGP victory]. So yeah, that year was very special to me.”
You won the WSB title in 2001, and pushed eventual Champion Colin Edwards right to the wire the following year. Then came the call from MotoGP and things went downhill. Do you think there was a particular reason for that?
“I believe so, yes, but I don’t regret anything, simply because I think it did me some good. The plan was to step up to MotoGP with Ducati and take some guys I’d worked with closely in WSB. But that didn’t happen, and that can hurt your momentum. I mean, when I was offered the Valencia race in 2006, I said, ‘okay, I’ll go, but only if I can bring some of my guys with me.’ That discussion went backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, and finally the team said ‘yes’. And we won! And that was a big difference to my first year.”
Did the fact that Ducatis won every WSB race in 2003 make your position all the more frustrating?
“No. MotoGP was a totally new project, and actually we were quite happy with the first year. There were no dramas at all, and we even got a few podiums [at Jerez, Sachsenring and Brno]. The problem was 2004. We believe we’d made all the right decisions, the bike looked incredible, and we were really happy with the development. But the year started and straight away we had problems. I think the whole year, Loris [Capirossi, teammate] and I only got one podium each [Capirossi’s at Philip Island, Troy’s the following event at Valencia]. So it was just a very difficult year.”
And things didn’t get much better when you had your one-off year with Camel Honda…
“I struggled with Honda in 2005. That was my only year outside Ducati and really I didn’t want to got there, but I was basically put there! Honda and I just didn’t mix. It was difficult. I didn’t feel comfortable on the bike: maybe it was all those years on a Ducati, I don’t know. I mean the team was great, and they had a lot of great people, but things just didn’t click. Looking back it was just one of those things.”
Do you think that is one of the reasons Valentino Rossi has struggled with Ducati? Things just not clicking…?
“[Pause] I see guys coming and going – changing teams and bikes – and that’s the way it is. I just feel there should be a little more loyalty between teams and riders – I’m not pointing that at Valentino or Ducati or anybody in particular here – but you can’t win all the time. And I think some bosses need to understand that, and get through the hard times without putting the blame on other people.”
Having returned to WSB, you finally called it a day in 2008. But only after securing the Championship one last time. How does it feel knowing that you retired as #1?
“Good! It was definitely the right decision, and when you look at me continuing on with Ducati, people do look at how you finished. I wanted to stop in one-piece without being a broken down rider, and for my wife and kids. At the time, it was difficult to make the decision, but looking back it was the right decision. Definitely!”
Interview concludes on page 2